I don’t memorize well. Never have, and it doesn’t get easier the older you get. I can memorize a line, recite it word for word, over and over, but when I come back to it the next day, it’s as if I’ve never seen the material before. This isn’t unique to Bible verses, mind you. It’s just the way my brain works. Concepts, I get. Rote memorization, not without much repetition.
I say this so you don’t think memory work is easy for me, explaining why I think everyone should jump in too. Just the opposite. I think it’s hard. And for a time I thought it was sort of self-defeating. I mean, I’d learned Bible verses as a kid going to Sunday school. The result was that I could rattle off passages like Psalm 23 and John 3:16 and Romans 8:28 without giving much thought to them. They were in my head, but the meaning of those words wasn’t connected.
Then the day came when I stood beside my mom’s hospital bed, holding her hand as she breathed her last breath. Into my mind flashed, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” Yes, it was there in full-blown King James English though I hadn’t used that translation since I was a child.
It may not have been right at that moment, but I began to see how the Holy Spirit could call to my mind the verses I needed when I needed them — provided, of course, they were in my mind to begin with.
That motivates me to memorize Scripture, and a few years ago, I took it up again. As I worked on different passages, I discovered something else. During the memory process — the one I find so hard — I see things about verses I never noticed before, no matter how many times I may have read them.
Take my new project, for example — 1 Peter. I don’t think I’ve ever done much with that book. It seems pretty straightforward. Nothing earth shattering, no big doctrinal revelations or controversy that I am aware of.
For one thing, I’m more mindful that this is Peter writing. I’m seeing the content through the eyes of someone who actually hung with Jesus. So in chapter two when he refers to Jesus as a living stone and those who believe in Him as living stones, I can’t help but think of that day when Jesus asked His disciples who they said He was and Simon answered: You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus replied by saying, You are Peter, or “Stone.” Scholars debate about the meaning of what came next, but I don’t doubt that Peter was thinking about that conversation with Jesus when he wrote
you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
I’m still at the beginning of chapter 1, but I’ve noticed a couple other things. For one, Peter’s language seems more straightforward than Paul’s. Some of Paul’s sentence construction seems, at times, a little convoluted.
When I need extra help remembering a verse, I will sometimes diagram it in my mind (something left over from being an English teacher. And go figure — I always hated diagramming!) Some of Paul’s are beyond me. So far, Peter’s are pretty standard — kind of what I’d expect from a fisherman versus a Torah scholar.
But here’s something else. Peter was always the exuberant disciple. It was Peter who wanted to walk on the water with Jesus, as a test to be sure it really was Him. Peter was the one who dared to take Jesus aside and rebuke Him for talking about His upcoming execution. Peter was also the one who adamantly said he would rather die than desert Jesus. It was also Peter who whipped out a sword to stand against the mob who came to arrest Jesus in the garden (that would be, right before he ran away).
Peter was flamboyant. Many of us like him best of all the disciples, and I suspect that was the case for those in his circle, too. After all, when he said he was going fishing after the resurrection, a handful of the others followed him out to sea.
Well, for the first time, as I’m struggling to memorize what he wrote, I’m seeing Peter’s flamboyance come through in his writing. For instance, he doesn’t just greet those he’s writing to with the blessing, Grace and peace be yours, as Paul so often does. In true Peter fashion, he goes a step beyond. “May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.”
He refers, not just to an inheritance reserved in heaven for believers, but one that is “imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away.” In verse 5 he says those believers “greatly rejoice,” not merely “rejoice.” Then in verse 8 it’s “greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible.” I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds like a guy who would run to a tomb, push past his friend who’d arrived ahead of him, and plunge inside to see what he could see.
In short, because I’m memorizing some of what Peter wrote, I’m seeing his life poured out in his words. And it’s an amazing thing — realizing that God inspired the writing, down to each jot, and did so by using Peter, just as he was.
I love what I’m learning through this memory process!